Dealing with Toxic People: Poor Listeners

February 29, 2016

Over the years, I’ve been blessed with the “fortune” of knowing a few toxic individuals. The best things to come from these relationships are the gifts of: patience, understanding, and wisdom. On your end, of course. 😉

It has taken me a lifetime to learn some effective techniques for dealing with emotional toxicity. I’ve decided to share my wisdom with the world. These lessons are painful and hard-earned, but if I can spare even one person the pain of learning the hard way, it will make my own suffering all-the-more worth it. It will also help me in my own journey of healing.

I am going to break up this series — Dealing with Toxic People — into several parts. I could (and just might) write an entire book on the topic, but today I’m going to start with one of the things that seem to affect almost all toxic people — poor listening skills.

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Indeed, toxic individuals are almost always poor listeners. It is a part of what makes them toxic. Now, do not be confused here. Toxic people have no trouble hearing. In fact, they hear quite well. You will find that they are quite adept at hearing and will often hear what you say so intently that they will later use your very own words against you — distorted to the point that they are nearly unrecognizable — but your words all the same.

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There is a trick to effectively coping with the poor listening skills of toxic people. It is to understand the difference between listening and hearing. These are, in fact, two very different things.

Hearing is the simple act of perceiving sounds with your ears.

Listening, however, is more complex. It involves actively hearing and paying attention to what the other person is saying to you. It involves quieting your own mind, while you truly listen to what the other person says. Your mind is quiet. You are reserving judgment. You are not waiting for your opportunity to cut the other person off and break into the conversation with your own thoughts. You are just listening.

Once you recognize what constitutes good listening, it will be easy to identify poor listening. When you can recognize something for exactly what it is, you have already won half the battle in effectively coping.

The next half of the battle is about how you respond to poor listening. First, you must accept that you cannot change people. If someone is a poor listener, it is very likely that he or she will always be a poor listener. Now, accept that and rest in the knowledge that while you cannot change the way that others act, you can change the way that you react.

So, how should you react? Here is my golden, hard-earned wisdom. When someone is not listening to you, your body’s natural response is to get emotional. You will instinctively feel upset, hurt, angry, and frustrated. Your heart may start to race, your breathing will become quick. Your head may even start to hurt as you find yourself desperately trying to get out your thoughts, feelings, and emotions while the other person is continually cutting you off, failing to hear you, and twisting your words.

The key to deal with this is that you must act non-emotionally. Shut off all of those emotional instincts of frustration. Intentionally slow your breathing. Remain calm. Speak slowly and carefully. Say what you have to say and nothing more. Do not allow the other person to bully or pressure you into speeding up your speech, stuttering, or saying something that you regret. Say what you intended to say, how you intended to say it, and nothing more.

In extreme cases, if the person refuses to let you speak, simply walk away and come back to the conversation at a later time, when emotions have cooled. Another option is to write an email or letter when you have calmed down. Walking away from the conversation entirely is another option, but that is only if you intend to cut the toxic person out of your life entirely. Otherwise, it is important to express yourself and/or resolve conflicts eventually so that things do not pile up, later leading to resentment or explosions.

To recap, the most important tip that I can give you for dealing with toxic people is to always rely on logic (your brain) rather than emotion (your heart). This is especially true, when it comes to dealing with poor listeners. It is not an easy thing to accomplish. Our natural instinct is always to react with emotion — Fight or Flight. Toxic people know this and they depend on the fact that you will react with emotion.

When you get emotional, they get the upper hand. You can take back control by remaining calm and logical. When you do this, the toxic person will basically short-circuit. They don’t know how to handle it. When you refuse to engage in their negativity, most times they will either: A. be forced to join you on a level of rationality and respect; or B. (the more likely case) they will get frustrated that they can’t engage/abuse you, and they will walk away. Either situation is better than the alternative, which is you getting frustrated, or worse.

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I hope that you will use this technique to help you cope with the toxic people in your life. Whether it is a coworker, a spouse, a parent, or someone else — dealing with toxic people is never easy. Unfortunately, toxic people are very adept at hiding their toxic traits and kind people are very good at overlooking them. Therefore, you may find yourself deeply enmeshed in a toxic relationship, friendship, or work situation before you even realize what is going on.

It is never too late to learn how to cope with toxicity. It is also important to remember that you can always find a way out of toxic relationships. Even if you feel trapped, know that your situation is never hopeless. Keep educating yourself and keep moving in the right direction.

I hope that you have found this post to be useful. If so, please let me know in the comments and I will write some more posts on the topic of dealing with toxic people.

4 Comments

  • Misty Carone

    This is so, so good. THANK YOU. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt heard but not listened to over the last few years. It’s a daily struggle, actually. And I respond with emotion about 90% of the time! The thing is, I’ve recognized this behavior in myself and in the other party involved. And, I’ve also come to the conclusion that I need to remain calm and to not let the other have control over my emotions and my mood. Because that’s exactly what’s happening. I’m allowing this person to control my mood which in turn completely affects my entire day, negatively. I just can’t (won’t) live this way. I’ve been trying to teach (train) myself to react just like you’ve described so that I have the upper hand and remain in control. It’s all about perception and how I internalize my surroundings and my situation. I can either let things get the best of me or I can choose to brush negativity aside and refuse to let it penetrate my being. You’ve so hit the nail on the head with this and reading this just reaffirms my own personal experiences and gives me more confidence in carrying out this new attitude. It ain’t easy…not by a long shot. But it’s not hopeless either, like you said. Right on, Mama! Definitely looking forward to the rest of this series :) xoxo

  • marissa claire

    You hit the nail right on the head. Toxic people are a huge emotional drain for me! There is someone very close to me who is exactly the person you have described – Incredibly poor listener.

    I am quite frustrated and will try the suggestions you have given. Hopefully, it may work!

  • carolina

    Excellent post. I am suffering under a toxic boss now. I had a hunch that slowing down my speech might help so I googled “toxic boss slow speech” and low and behold…I found this. I realized that she is never really listing to me and constantly interrupting, which then causes me a ton of anxiety. Rather than try to get words in I’m going to try the opposite….sloooooow down.

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